So let’s get it out the way. With all apologies to UK tabloid behemoth The Daily Mirror, Prince’s latest release 20TEN is not the legendary Prince’s best album in 23 years. But it is easily the Purple One’s tightest, most focused and playful effort in more than a decade; an infectious album that finds the 52-year-old confidently taking back ownership of his celebrated synth-funk/rock/pop hybrid Minneapolis sound.
Of course, there is a motive behind the across-the-pond publication’s over-the-top praise of 20Ten. Prince, who gets paid more than $1 million per concert gig, received cash upfront from his savvy Daily Mirror July 10 deal for the early rights to distribute 2.5 million copies of his current project in its publication. Other European print newspapers and magazines are including 20Ten as a complimentary giveaway in support of the musician’s acclaimed overseas tour. Maybe Prince’s head-scratching declaration that music distribution on the Internet is “completely over,” a statement that was met by howls from the tech brigade, was propelled by solid reasoning. That said, how does the music sound? VIBE breaks down Prince’s latest offering. —Keith Murphy
1. If you’ve ever wondered what a 52-year-old former blush-inducing sex God turned respected music giant and practicing Jehovah’s Witness would sound like if he was inspired by his pre-Revolution 1978-1982 run, 20Ten may be your answer. Anyone claiming that Prince reaches the underrated soulful bliss of his debut For You and self-titled follow-up; matches the two-fisted, fuck-you attitude of Dirty Mind and Controversy or travels the same sheer musical genius of 1999 has been sniffing the inside of his Royal Badness’ throwback high heel boots. But even the most jaded of Prince fans has to smile after hearing the prolific artist unleash his strongest run of five songs in ages starting with the spiritually-tinged stunner “Beginning Endlessly” and ending with the too-cool-for-school brilliance of “Lavaux.” The latter track’s twisting, symbolic wordplay is vintage Prince: “A paradox is box’s key/I’m the why in mystery/You’re gonna unlock the secrets, if you please.” Well, damn.
2. Since his 2004 epic solo at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Prince has been given his well-deserved title as a venerable guitar God. But while there’s not much ear bleeding, rock-charging ax-work on 20Ten, Prince’s effortless rhythm guitar prowess is front and center. Chief among his cocky funk riffs is the instant classic “Sticky Like Glue,” a stripped down gem complete with Mr. Nelson’s signature Linn drum machine and dirty analog keyboards. Just how triumphant is “Sticky Like Glue?” Not even Prince’s brief silly rap spoils the party. Game, blouses.
3. Again, it can’t be said enough of just how much fun the old man is having on this one. Yes, the happy face, new wave sing-along “Everybody Loves Me” has sparked debate within the hardcore Prince fan brigade. But those downing the tongue-in-cheek number (just peep the song title) may need to remember that this is the same guy who wrote whimsical, over-the-top songs entitled “Jack U Off,” “Horny Toad”,” and “Starfish & Coffee.” In other words, it’s not that serious, which is kind of cool.
4. Throughout his storied career, when Prince has gone into socially conscious territory, the results have been mixed. For every insightful “Sign O’ The Times” and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” there’s a ham-handed “Mr. Man” and “Get On The Boat.” This time, however, Prince dispenses with the cheesy soapbox rhetoric on “Act Of God” and from the jump goes in for the righteous kill: “Dirty, fat banker sold a house today/Sold at auction, want the family out the way/Kicked ‘em on the street cause he couldn’t pay the tax/Call it an act of God…” It’s as if Prince was leading a choir at a fan-waving, foot-stomping tent revival somewhere in Mississippi.
5. Much has been made of The Dream’s admirable naughty nod to Prince on “Yamaha.” But if we are really being honest, unless the in-demand songwriter can single-handedly pull off a divine rock ballad like “Future Soul Song”—with its floating harmonies, lush guitar cascades, earnest lyricism and otherworldly production—all the talk of the ex-Mr. Milian one-upping you know who needs to cease. Like, right now.